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China's Shenzhou-11 Spacecraft Returns After 33 Days In Space

Picture of Sally Gao
Updated: 23 November 2016
After 33 days in space, China’s Shenzhou-11 spacecraft successfully returned to Earth on Friday, November 18th, completing the nation’s longest ever manned orbital mission. The mission is a key step for China’s space program, which aims to build a permanently manned space station by 2022.

The space capsule landed safely at a site in the grasslands of central Inner Mongolia, an autonomous region located in the north of China, at around 2PM Beijing time. It brought home two astronauts, 50-year-old Jing Haipeng and 38-year-old Chen Dong.

The Shenzhou-11, whose name translates to ‘Divine Vessel,’ launched on October 17th and docked with the Tiangong-2, China’s first space lab, two days later. During their month in the Tiangong-2 space lab, the astronauts carried out scientific experiments, including cultivating silkworms in zero gravity and using quantum devices in outer space, Chinese state media reports. Watch a video of the launch below.

The spacecraft’s touchdown was greeted by support teams and state media. Zhang Gaoli, the nation’s Vice Premier, hailed the mission as a ‘major breakthrough’ for China’s manned space program.

This is the sixth successful manned space mission carried out by China, and its longest to date. The current record holder for the longest time spent in space is the former Russian astronaut Valeri Polyakov, who spent almost 438 days on the Mir space station between January 1994 and March 1995.

China has been investing billions of dollars in its space project over the past few years, and the country aims to have a permanently manned space station by 2022. The space station’s core module is projected to launch in 2018. Once in service, it is designed to accommodate three to six astronauts, who will remain in space for one whole year.

With the retirement of the International Space Station (ISS) planned for 2024, China is likely to have the only operating space station in orbit by then.